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NAPLES — Collier County government may consider imposing a new fee on county residents’ Florida Power & Light bills to help bring Jackson Laboratory to the community, according to county officials.
The county has the ability to raise revenue by imposing a fee on power bills through a franchise agreement with FPL.
The fee is being considered to generate some of the $130 million in local money needed to bring the genetics research facility to the community, according to county officials.
“There have been discussions on various methods on the (local) funding,” said Jeff Klatzkow, the county attorney. “One of the discussions would be a franchise fee. I don’t know what the percentage would be. These are very preliminary discussions at this time.”
The Economic Development Council of Collier County and the county, with Commission Chairman Fred Coyle at the helm, have been working for more than a year to bring Maine-based Jackson Laboratory to the community. The nonprofit genetics research group is proposing to build an institute for personalized medicine and create 200 jobs over the next five years. The Barron Collier Co. has agreed to donate 50 acres off Oil Well Road for the project. The concept is that Jackson would serve as an anchor to attract other biomedical firms to the region and thousands of more jobs would be created.
FPL spokesman Greg Brostowicz said the utility and Collier officials have been in talks within the past few weeks. The utility has franchise agreements with 170 municipal and county governments in the state, including Naples, but Collier does not have one.
The standard rate, where the utility agrees to put the fee on customers’ bills, collects the money and turns it over to the government entity, is 5.9 percent, he said.
When and if terms of an agreement are reached, including the amount of the proposed fee, the Collier County Commission would have to have a public hearing and vote on it, Brostowicz said.
Only residents in unincorporated Collier County who are served by FPL would have to pay the fee.
Coyle confirmed an FPL fee is one way for the county to come up with some of the match to the state Legislature’s $130 million pledge over three years for the Jackson project.
Other ideas include impact fee deferrals, tax increment financing from economic development zones and infrastructure contributions, he said.
“These are all being talked about,” Coyle said, adding that nothing has been put on paper yet for the funding. “We have lots of funding options we could utilize. There are many things that Collier County could do that don’t reflect cash payments.”
Coyle said he is not involved with the FPL talks.
“I have not had so much as a telephone conversation with FPL on this issue,” he said.
John Torre, the county spokesman, said the county has not decided on what the fee might be, if it goes that route.
“No set percentage has been determined or settled upon,” Torre said, adding that he has heard a one percent fee could generate about $3.5 million a year, based on historical energy usage by local residents. The fee could not be imposed on county residents not served by FPL.
Before the county will explore the idea fee in detail, Gov. Charlie Crist needs to sign off on the state budget that allocates the $130 million in state money to the project, Klatzkow said. That could happen in the next week or two.
After that, the county would need to know if Jackson Laboratory is able to meet its pledge of private dollars and the governor’s office would have to approve the county’s plan for the local match, Klatzkow said. Jackson officials have previously vowed to raise $120 million in private dollars.
“We don’t know yet what the requirements are going to be,” Klatzkow said. “If the state doesn’t like our funding mechanism, they won’t release their money.”
Klatzkow said the county has talked over the years about imposing an FPL fee in unincorporated Collier as a means of generating revenue. The idea has gone before the Collier board before but it has been rejected. He did not know who initiated the idea of the franchise fee for the Jackson project.
The City of Naples first imposed an FPL franchise fee on city residents in 1974 at six percent and that was replaced in 2004 with a 5.9 percent fee, according to Ann Marie Ricardo, the city’s finance director. The fee last year generated $3.9 million in 2009 and $3.7 million in 2008. The nonexclusive franchise agreement with FPL expires in 2034.